Travel and tourism may never be the same again. The tourism industry has been heavily impacted by COVID-19 as countries around the world shut down their borders and implemented strict travel restrictions. The airline industry in particular has suffered significant losses. The coronavirus effect on tourism may be felt for years to come. So, what will the industry look like in the “new normal”?
International aviation has been essentially on a standstill since March 2020, and is just now slowly picking back up. The International Air Travel Association predicts that airlines are unlikely to see a return to normal before the start of 2021.  The coronavirus effect on travel has necessitated social distancing, which can seem almost impossible on planes, and can result in enormous costs for airlines that have to leave certain numbers of seats empty.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), international tourism declined by 60 per cent in 2020, and could drop a further 20 per cent if recovery is delayed until December. Tourism businesses were among the first to shut down in response outbreak, and will be among the last to restart. Even if they do – in the absence of a vaccine – they will be hampered by unprecedented health and safety measures.
The sheer impact on tourism means that compared to other industries the path to a quick recovery is unlikely. Due to a decrease in demand for travel, the first year post-COVID will likely be particularly challenging. New safety measures will have to be implemented in airports and airplanes such as social distancing, sanitisation and other precautions. 
Reimagining Tourism Post-Covid
Travel restrictions are expected to be lifted gradually. According to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the travel and tourism industry is expected to pick up slightly in 2021, although domestic demand will recover faster than international demand. Some airlines have chosen to resume flights at a reduced capacity, while others require testing before boarding.
What will the future of tourism look like? It can be hard to tell, given the unpredictable and uncertain nature of current times. However, one universal effect of the pandemic has been rapid digitisation across all sectors. A renewed focus on contactless technology, automated processes, enhanced sanitisation, temperature checks and social distancing is a safe bet.
Bahrain in the “New Normal”
Now at last, countries are tentatively beginning to open their borders and loosen travel restrictions. The Kingdom of Bahrain presents an interesting case study of one such country that is taking steps to ensure the safety of its visitors and travelers. With Formula One set to take place in November, Bahrain is set to welcome a large number of visitors and must ensure elevated health and safety measures are maintained. Medical protocols have been implemented in Bahrain International Airport, where a strict COVID-19 screening regime for all arrivals has removed the need for self-isolation and quarantine for negative cases.
Moreover, Bahrain has entered the first phase of its #WeWillMeet campaign aimed at safely welcoming visitors back to the Kingdom. The timing of the campaign launch coincides not just with the gradual loosening of flight restrictions, but also the phased opening of the King Fahd Causeway – one of the busiest crossings in the Middle East that connects Bahrain with Saudi Arabia. The first phase of the campaign is focused on community building and awareness raising via live virtual sessions and digital interaction. The next phases will gradually encourage face to face visitors as restrictions ease.
The coronavirus effect on tourism presents plenty of new challenges but also new opportunities for the sector as we enter into the unpredictable and uncharted post-COVID period. One thing is certain: #WeWillMeet again.
Click here to learn more about Bahrain’s tourism sector.